Review: Soul Sacrifice (PSV)
Title: Soul Sacrifice
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1775 MB) / Game Card
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Marvelous AQL / SCE Japan Studio
Price: $35.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: M
Soul Sacrifice is exclusive to the PlayStation Vita.
Many gamers would argue that the PlayStation Vita has a somewhat lackluster library after its first year on the market. For the most part, this is true, as the majority of the Vita’s catalog consists of ports or spin-offs of major console titles. While games like Gravity Rush, Sound Shapes, and Guacamelee diversify this line up, the PlayStation fan base has been clamoring for a new IP built around a mobile gameplay experience. Enter Soul Sacrifice, an original IP built from the ground up as a PlayStation Vita experience from the minds of industry veteran Keji Inafune and SCE Japan Studio. With an emphasis on quick missions, tons of content, and an unconventional story, Soul Sacrifice cements itself as a solid title on the PlayStation Vita, even if it isn’t for everybody.
Soul Sacrifice aims to tell a story of regret, choice, and human suffering. At its onset, the player finds themselves locked in a cell by the powerful sorcerer Magusar, an corrupt individual hell-bent on sustaining his immortality through human sacrifice. In this cell, the prisoner is confronted with the mysterious, talking book Librom. He contains the memories and secrets of prisoners and sorcerers past, and through these experiences, the prisoner will eventually become strong enough to confront Magusar. It’s an atypical plot, but its structure facilitates the mission based gameplay at Soul Sacrifice’s core.
The game is structured around missions that take anywhere from two to twenty minutes to complete, depending on objective and complexity. A vast majority of the missions charge the prisoner with slaying a certain amount of enemies in a given area, while others may stress collecting a set number of soul essences or defeating a boss. The lack of mission variety begins to wear thin after a while, but the fluid and addictive combat makes the tedium much more bearable.
Inspired heavily by Monster Hunter, Soul Sacrifice is a third-person action RPG focused on killing monsters. Rather than equipping weapons and armor, the player equips six items to enter each battle with, each with a limited amount of uses. The fighters can only use a spell a finite amount of times before it breaks and becomes unusable. These spells can be replenished through restoring charges in the environment or sacrificing enemies, and they also fully heal if they remain unbroken at the end of the battle.
The spells can be upgraded and fused to create more powerful and longer lasting ones. By combining two duplicate relics, the player can upgrade its level and its durability. In addition, new spells can be forged by fusing existing spells together. The fusion and upgrade system can seem a bit obtuse, as the game does a poor job explaining it to the player in the beginning. Thankfully, it becomes second nature after the first few hours. Every mission rewards you with a steady stream of new and already discovered items, giving the player plenty of opportunity to fuse and upgrade.
At its heart, Soul Sacrifice is a game about choices, and this emerges in its core gameplay mechanic. After defeating an enemy, the player is presented with the choice to save or sacrifice it. Saving it increases your fighter’s overall defense and HP, restoring its health in the midst of battle as well. Sacrificing it increases your attack power and slightly restores your spells charges. For the smaller enemies, these choices can seem trivial and meaningless, but this decision becomes significantly more important after defeating a boss. Saving or sacrificing a boss tends to open up different branches in the mission structure, and you’ll find yourself replaying missions just to unlock all of the paths. In addition, saving a boss gives you an AI partner that can tag along during certain missions. The boss characters also give a significant boost to your life or magic level. Each of these skills can be leveled up, but with a maximum combined level count of 100, the choice is left up to the player. Luckily, the player’s progress can be changed with the in-game currency: Lacrima.
In a strange and out of place “mini game”, (and I use the term rather loosely here) Librom will develop droplets of Lacrima on the outside of his binding every so often. The player can gather this when he exits back to his cell, where Librom will remind you to check for droplets. It’s an arbitrary step that is unnecessary. The game could have just as easily awarded players with Lacrima after each battle, but nonetheless, this resource is necessary to maintain your character’s well being. Besides reconfiguring your health and attack levels, Lacrima can be used for a great many other things. If your combatant happens to use a spell until it breaks, it can be restored to as good as new with a payment of Lacrima. If an AI partner falls in a mission, you can spend this precious resource to bring them back to life. Finally, it can also be used to heal yourself after using a Black Rite.
The Black Rite can be seen as the ultimate form of magic. These spells are a one time use in combat, and they usually have massive consequences. For example, casting the Infernus Black Rite lights every enemy on the battlefield aflame, dealing a considerable amount of damage. In return, the caster has his defense permanently halved. Unfortunately, this status effect does not wear off after battle, and can only be reduced through the use of Lacrima. It’s a cool risk-reward system that makes the player reconsider whether casting this spell is worthwhile.
One of the biggest strengths of Soul Sacrifice is the pure amount of content in the game. After the first hour or so with the story, the game opens up tremendously and gives the player a wide array of missions and objectives to tackle. There are easily over 200 missions in the game, giving players plenty of bang for their buck. Most of these missions amount to little more than kill a certain number of enemies in this area, but the combat is fluid and dynamic enough to keep it interesting. Everything in the game is solid, providing a great experience for players who want a lot of content, but don’t mind the somewhat tedious and repetitive nature.
There’s no denying it; Soul Sacrifice is a gorgeous game. The environments look fantastic and so do the enemies. This can be attributed to the few enemies on screen at any time, but things never feel too devoid of life. From ice covered wastelands to endless deserts, the levels in Soul Sacrifice are one of the better visual treats on the PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, repetition becomes an issue. The same environments are recycled from mission to mission, and even though this gives the player a sense of familiarity, it makes it feel like the game has been artificially padded with content.
The enemy design in Soul Sacrifice leaves a lot to be desired. While well designed to an extent, the game seems content with feeding the player the same enemy sets over and over again. Most of the enemy variety in the game amounts to little more than a re-skin and weakness swap, leading to the overall tedium present. While the boss designs are inspired and gruesome, the large amount of repetition in enemy design yet again makes the game feel padded and stretched out.
The interface and menu system, however, are extremely unique and creative. Rather than use a static set of menus to transport players from encounter to encounter, Librom serves his purpose as a book and guides you to different battles through the pages in his books. Every tap on the touch screen adds an ink blot to the screen, furthering the illusion of the book interface. Instead of scrolling through long lists of texts, illustrations and captions pop and animate on each page of the book, making the story sections feel much more interactive.
The audio in Soul Sacrifice stands head and shoulders above many other aspects of the game. Recorded at Skywalker Sound, the fantastical orchestra perfectly accentuates moments of grave tension, excitement, and adrenaline. Whether it’s the swells of violins in the menu or the strong percussion in battle, the music in Soul Sacrifice is memorable and perfectly augments the experience. Weapon sounds and monster attacks are on par with what you expect from the genre, with nothing standing out or memorable. The voice work in the game is stylized well, but it can become cheesy and cringe-worthy in some certain spots. The performances deliver a much needed ambivalence, making it complement, rather than detract, from the story’s direction and tone.
Most players will find that the multiplayer is the most appealing part of Soul Sacrifice. After completing the first chapter of the campaign, the Avalon Pacts section open up to the player, allowing them to take on missions with the aid of AI or other players. These missions can be tackled solo or with others, but it is significantly more enjoyable when playing with friends. Many of the bosses can be taken down with brute force, but teaming up with other players to strategize equipment selections will make battles go by smoother and easier. Progress attained in the multiplayer portion of the game will carry back to single player, giving players plenty of reason to partake in multiplayer as much as possible. The online lobby system is slick and easy to navigate, and the game’s quick, addictive style makes it extremely addicting and rewarding to play online with others.
Overall, Soul Sacrifice is an excellent game, held back by some unfortunate design decisions. The recycled landscapes and enemy design make the game feel tedious quicker than it should, but at the same time, I found myself entranced by the rewarding and addictive gameplay. The combat is solid and enjoyable. Online multiplayer is extremely fun, and its short, mission-based structure lends itself for an excellent portable gaming experience.
For players that tend to get bored with a game if there’s not something new around every corner, Soul Sacrifice, with its loose story and simplistic mission objectives, is sure to disappoint. For those who would rather have a finely tuned machine that is well crafted, yet ultimately repetitive, this game will deliver. It’s not the best portable game to come out in years, but it is something unique that Vita owners should appreciate. It’s nice to finally have a unique IP designed for on the go play.